What’s the origin of “boogie”?

Dear Cecil:

A friend of mine said the other day he was going to "boogie on the slopes." I must have looked a little puzzled, because he amplified by saying, "You know, to make some moves in the snow." That set me to wondering about the origins of the word "boogie," and to thinking that it might be connected with the French word bougir, to move, or bougie, a movement. Am I right, and if not, what is the origin of boogie?

Cecil replies:

I think the French verb you mean is bouger, but in any case there’s no connection. Ultimately, “boogie” seems to come, via a circuitous route, from the Latin Bulgarus, an inhabitant of Bulgaria. The Old French term boulgre was used to refer to a member of a sect of 11th-century Bulgarian heretics, and “bougre” first appears in the English writing in 1340 as a synonym for “heretic.” By the 16th century, “bougre” grew into “bugger,” a practitioner of vile and despicable acts including “buggery,” or sodomy. “Bogy” (or “bogie”) first appears in the 19th century as an appellation for the devil; later it came to be used for hobgoblins in general. Hence, the bogeyman, which may be the source of the use of “bogey” and “boogies” to mean “Negro.” Shortly after these usages became common (in the 1920s), there appeared boogie woogie music, and I guess you can figure out the rest.

There’s no need to be concerned about your friend, unless he was using “boogie” in the old black slang sense to mean secondary syphilis. In that case, you might tell him that the snow of Switzerland has no proven therapeutic effect, now matter how one moves in it.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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